Meeting on February 8th, 2003
February 8, 2003, MEETING OF THE IMPERIAL ST. LANDRY GENEALOGICAL AND
HISTORICAL SOCIETY, was called to order by Society President, Estelle
Perrault, at 10:00 AM, in the Opelousas Museum and Interpretive Center.
Refreshments, courtesy of the museum and its director, Sue Deville,
were served before the meeting.
Miss Perrault announced that the Imperial St. Landry Genealogical and
Historical Society has been in existence for ten years.
The Society president then introduced the guest speaker, Margaret Dunbar
Cutright, a granddaughter of Robert “Bobby” Dunbar.
Mrs. Cutright acknowledged the presence of Mrs. Aline C. Perrault in
the audience. Mrs. Perrault, who
is now 99 years young, remembers the huge citywide celebration and ice cream
social upon the return of Bobby Dunbar to Opelousas.
Mrs. Cutright then captivated Society members and guests with the
ninety year old story of the young Bobby Dunbar who disappeared from a fishing
camp near Opelousas in 1912.
Newspaper accounts of the time stated that four-year old Bobby
disappeared in August, 1912. His
frantic parents, their friends and law enforcement officials conducted an
exhaustive search over the next several months, and even a $6,000 reward
turned up nothing. After eight
months of unsuccessful searching, Bobby’s parents, Percy and Lessie Dunbar,
were notified that a young boy answering Bobby’s description had been
located with an organ repairman in Mississippi.
The repairman-musician, William Cantrell Walters, claimed that the
young boy was Bruce Anderson, the child of a relative, Julia Anderson.
Walters was brought to Opelousas for the sensational kidnapping trial,
which gained nationwide attention. When
Julia Anderson was unable to positively identify the boy as her son, Bruce,
the boy was determined by the court to be the missing Bobby Dunbar.
Walters was jailed from April, 1913 to February, 1915, and the trial
took place in April, 1914. His
conviction was later overturned, and he was set free.
Mrs. Cutright read her recollection of the story, as told to her by her
grandmother. She told the
audience of a scrapbook which had been kept by her great grandmother, and how
that scrapbook, which came into her possession, led to her years of research.
She stated that, when she began the search for missing pieces in the
mystery surrounding her grandfather’s disappearance, it was not her
intention to publish a book. She
also felt that there was no doubt that the child who was returned to Opelousas
was the missing Dunbar child, as determined by the courts.
As her research progressed, Mrs. Cutright realized that she wanted to
interview Julia Anderson’s family. After
talking with those family members, she understood that they felt that Bruce
Anderson had been taken from their family, and that he was unfairly awarded to
the Dunbar family. Suddenly, she
was not so sure about the identity of her grandfather, the man known as Robert
“Bobby” Dunbar. Over the last
several years, Mrs. Cutright has amassed an impressive collection of
artifacts, including newspaper articles, photographs, court records and
interviews. During an interview
with a man named Hollis, another son of Julia Anderson,
Mrs. Cutright showed him some of her family photographs.
He pointed out the photograph of Robert Dunbar, and identified him as
the man who had come to visit him in Mississippi.
Mrs. Cutright also visited Julia’s daughter, Bernice, who was 91
years old at the time. Hollis and
Bernice maintained that their mother always told them that her son, Bruce, had
been unjustly taken from her.
Mrs. Cutright learned that the young boy, Bruce, had been left in the care
of a Mr. and Mrs. Bilbo for a while, and that Julia Anderson is buried about
one half mile from the Bilbo house. She
stated that, despite the years of research, she feels no closer to solving the
mystery now than she did at the beginning.
When asked if she would consider DNA testing to provide conclusive
evidence, she deferred to the wishes of some of the Dunbar family members, who
wish to “leave it alone”. In
conclusion, she stated that the important thing to remember was the way that
Bobby Dunbar conducted his life. She
is working with a publisher, and she promised to come to Opelousas for a book
signing when the book comes out. Mrs.
Cutright, a resident of New York, told the audience that the story took place
in Opelousas, and the book’s debut should be made in Opelousas.
Miss Perrault stated that she has been asked for information on people who
served in the Louisiana Legislature, particularly Edward Taylor Lewis, Jacques
Dupre and Henry Garland Dupre. Anyone
having such information is asked to contact Miss Perrault.
Mrs. Cutright was presented with two heavy canvas “book carrying
bags”. Door prize of a similar
bag was awarded to guest, Anna Lee Valin, and to Society member, Joan Nacoste.
The next Society meeting will be held in the third floor auditorium of
Opelousas General Hospital on Saturday, March 8, at 10:00 AM.
Guest speaker will be Mrs. Edwin (Jodie) Smith, Jr., who has done
extensive research on Colonial History.
Meeting adjourned at 12:07 PM.
Sylvia David Morel